We talk about altered states of consciousness a lot in the magical community and there is a tendency to assume that these are deep trances in which one is unassailable by outside world, or wild psychedelic trips brought about by heroic doses of psilocybin. The phrase ‘altered state of consciousness’ is, in fact, rather problematic: altered from what? And by how much? And what exactly is a ‘state’ when it comes to describing consciousness anyway?
Largely we talk about altered states when we are looking for ways to get the mind to interact more intensely with the realm of the spiritual, the spirits, the imaginal, the archetypal. The tarot, being a system based on the power of archetypes, is particularly susceptible to being approached in this realm.
This exercise is designed to help us approach the cards, the pip cards in particular, in a different state of consciousness and so make a more intense contact with the archetypes behind them. Archetypes have an existence and an agency which is independent of any single human mind, thus they are ‘persons’ which we can interact with if we can find a way to ‘be in the room’ with them. The aim here is to provoke a form of light trance which most people are already familiar with through doodling!
This exercise is to help understand the tarot and to help us add to our personal library of how we express each card and what each card communicates. It is particularly useful used with cards which we find elusive. We all have them, the cards we find hard to remember for no particular reason, and those which we never quite seem to pin down.
In essence it is very simple. Decide on a card you would like to understand better and have a pen and paper to hand. Spend a few moments just staring into space, look around the room but have no particular objective in mind. There will quickly come a point at which you realise you have become distracted from the notion of a tarot exercise. Without allowing this to snap you back completely, this is the point at which to begin doodling.
You shouldn’t have the card in front of you and, if at all possible, don’t give any thought to what the card looks like. You are absolutely not trying to draw a copy of the image. Begin with doodling the right number of the right kinds of pips (swords, cups etc). They do not have to resemble the pips on the RWS deck, nor do they need to be in the same arrangement, though sometimes this will just happen. Once you have the pips you will find that other decoration will come, thoughts will begin which lead to a line or a shape here or there; you might enclose them or draw a patterned frame around them, or scribble all over them, in other words you will be doodling. If nothing further comes than drawing say, ten round disks, then don’t force it, simply go over what you have and eventually, something more will nudge at you.
Obviously, this can be well done in exactly those situations in which we normally doodle, on public transport, sitting on the phone on hold, in a doctor’s waiting room. But it can be done equally well simply sitting quietly at a desk. The time to stop will almost certainly suggest itself.
This is only half of the exercise. The next and most important step is to now, in a more conscious way, re-run the thought processes that led to the image in front of you. Terms are difficult, maybe it is helpful to think of it as the ‘stream of consciousness’ that led to the doodle. It is easier to demonstrate than describe.
In the doodle based on the five of pentacles, for example, the process went something like this…
“drawing five circles… each has spokes… oh, they are like wheels… they seem to be arranged like a Christian cross… the central dot in the top one went a bit wrong… ah, it’s an eye… I realise now of course there is the imagery of a church window in the RWS card… an all seeing eye… a symbol of power and God and also very much a part of people’s fears… Godlike power… Big Brother… surveillance… Empire… the lines between the circles come fast now… vigorous… I feel quite angry drawing them… they make it clear I was wrong, this is an equilateral cross… this is an image of exclusion… the anger I feel is for those times I have been on the wrong side of these lines… power excludes people…”
What I am left with is a new (to me) really strong sense of the political as well as the personal nature of the five of pentacles. Of course, there are people in poverty there on the RWS card but I had never before understood clearly the wider dimension of the card, the story of poverty causing exclusion from warmth and light and power, that people are poor and excluded because of other people who exercise power. And the fact that this is, in some way baked into the world that is described by this card.
My insights are unimportant here except that they show the process. In short:
- Doodle the pips.
- Doodle around the pips.
- If nothing else comes draw over the pips until it does.
- When finished write out or run through the thoughts and (very importantly) the feelings that came whilst doodling and,
- in a more present frame of mind consider if that teaches you anything new.